There was a point at which the Lions thought they were solidified with their backfield, with the notion of going with a youth movement.
Kerryon Johnson, rookie D’Andre Swift, Ty Johnson and Bo Scarbrough looked to be the group heading into the season. When Adrian Peterson became available after being released from Washington, things changed — quickly.
The Lions pounced and got Peterson, who quickly turned some heads with 93 yards on 14 carries in his first game. It wasn’t just the on-field production that’s getting attention; it’s also the experience that he brings to an otherwise green position group.
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“He brings a lot when it comes to the younger guys, because right now the whole room is young. Kerryon is still young,” running backs coach Kyle Caskey said. “So, for these guys to actually learn how to practice — and a guy who obviously is 35 years old and played a long time, who has a lot of really big-time accomplishments throughout his career — for them to watch him and say this is how it should be done.”
That leadership was needed after Swift dropped the potential go-ahead touchdown pass — and there was Peterson to give him a pep talk about moving past the mistake and thinking ahead to the next game.
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The veteran experience and leadership are traits the Lions added in some of the other position groups on defense, but Peterson’s is just as vital because of the other things he’s accomplished in his career. It’s an inspiration and the example that he provides as well.
“I’d say the first thing he added was it’s like all the little brothers looking up to the big brother type of thing. All the little things he’s doing, they’re all watching him and, it’s not that he’s saying anything different, but the things he says carries a lot of weight,” Caskey said. “I may say something 1,000 times but he says at one time and the guys really listened to it and they really take to it so I think that’s been the biggest thing is the fact that he cares.
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“He’s trying to help make those young guys better because he knows that the more he can push them, that’s going to help us win and he just really honestly has come in and that’s been his main goal with us, is trying to find a way to help us out.”
Tight ends’ to-do list
T.J. Hockenson picked up where he left off before his injury last season, as a prime target for quarterback Matthew Stafford. It wasn’t quite the standout performance that Hockenson had in his rookie debut, but with five catches for 56 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown, he’s showing that he’s a potent target.
Tight ends coach Ben Johnson liked what he saw from Hockenson, though he noted some room for improvement.
“He had a good start to the season. He attacked the offseason really well and was determined to come back and bounce back from a 2019 that he saw as a disappointment,” Johnson said. “So, it was encouraging to see him play — and play fast. There’s plenty for us to clean up, but I thought for the first game and setting the foundation, I think he came back strong here for 2020 and really looking forward to getting better each week as it goes now.”
In 12 games last season, Hockenson posted 32 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns. Expectations were raised significantly after he had nine receptions for 131 yards in his first game, against the Cardinals last season.
The talk in the offseason was finding more production in the offense for the tight ends, and with Hunter Bryant injured in the preseason, there’s more room for Jesse James to increase his workload with Hockenson.
They have similar skill sets and with tight ends having to do as much pass-catching now as blocking, finding that right blend is significant.
“I see them interchangeable in terms of what they can do in the run game, pass protection and running routes. Each one has certain strengths and weaknesses, but I really feel good with both those guys being in on any situation because they both are complete all-around players,” Johnson said. “Whereas T.J. might split out a little bit more often than Jesse, that’s probably more the role in the play call than it is anything else.
“I feel very comfortable with both of those guys. I think it’s hard to find two complete tight ends on a roster right now and I feel really good about both those guys really lining up anywhere. They do a lot of things for us.”